Lana Lawless is a 57-year-old golfer and a retired police officer. She won the women’s division of the Long Drivers of America championship in 2008, with a 254-yard drive into a headwind. But Lawless was barred from competing in the 2010 Long Drivers of America championship competition because she’s transgender.
Recently, the Long Drivers of America changed its rules to match Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) policy requiring competitors to be born female. On Tuesday, Lawless filed a federal lawsuit against the LPGA. She’s arguing that the requirement that competitors be “female at birth” violates California civil rights law. She is seeking damages and to prevent the LPGA from holding events in California until they change their policy.
She is seeking to prevent the LPGA from holding events in California until the policy is changed, as well as an unspecified amount in damages from Long Drivers of America and two of its title sponsors.
Strict gender policing and confusion over how to handle transgender and intersex athletes is certainly not new in athletic communities. Caster Semenya, South African runner, was barred from competing for a year during an investigation over her gender.
But sports bodies are beginning to make changes to accommodate transgender athletes. In 2004, the International Olympic Committee began to allow transgender competitors, if they have undergone reassignment surgery and two or more years of postoperative hormone-replacement therapy. Golf organizations including the United States Golf Association, the Ladies Golf Union in Britain, and the Ladies European Golf Tour have passed policies to allow transgender people to compete.
Many see transgender athletes as a difficult issue, believing that transgender athletes can potentially have a competitive edge. But the notion that a transgender woman is at an advantage is a misconception. And that’s a point made by Lawless herself. According to Lawless, her physical skills put her on par with other golfers on the women’s tour. She had her testes removed in gender reassignment surgery in 2005, and because of hormone therapy, her hormone levels and muscle strength are similar to other women.
In California, the law is on her side. California is one of 13 states (plus the District of Columbia) with laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
Hopefully, the law — which is designed to prevent discrimination based on gender identity — will protect Lawless from this blatant discrimination. She should have the same opportunities to compete athletically as any other woman athlete.
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